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Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tips: Defending champion to successfully retain Blue Riband

Brian Healy gives his big race thoughts on the Cheltenham Gold Cup and assesses the chances of some of the main protagonists in the Friday spectacular.

The biggest race to go to post over the course of the fantastic four-day Cheltenham Festival, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup heads to post at 3.30pm as the fourth race of a seven-race card on Festival Friday.

The pinnacle of the jumps season for many, a gruelling 3m2f contest awaits those brave enough to take their place in the final line-up, each bidding to land the massive winners’ prize-pot which exceeds £350,000.

This contest invariably produces an exciting finish, and it takes a special racehorse to come out on top in chasing’s Blue Riband. Winning it once is a feat, but winning twice is something only the very best achieve, and Colin Tizzard’s Native River will be bidding to win back-to-back Gold Cups.


He faces no easy task however, with the likes of old adversary Might Bite, and young pretenders Clan Des Obeaux, Kemboy and Presenting Percy amongst the list of high-class rivals he might face.

The RSA Chase has often proven a happy hunting ground for future Gold Cup winners, with the likes of Lord Windermere, Bobs Worth and Denman all taking the novices’ championship before progressing to Gold Cup glory; while Might Bite won the RSA Chase in 2017 before being outstayed by Native River twelve months ago.

This year, it could be the turn of Presenting Percy (7/2, Coral) to graduate from the RSA Chase hall of fame to Gold Cup winning-status, but Pat Kelly’s star has had the strangest of preparations for the big race.

The Sir Percy gelding will be bidding for a third straight win at the Festival, having won the 2017 Pertemps Final, and he readily held off Monalee twelve months ago to win the RSA Chase and leap to the forefront of Gold Cup contenders this term.

But, perhaps strangely Presenting Percy has had only one start this campaign when contesting the Galmoy Hurdle which he won for the second straight year; he hasn’t been seen since, and he has missed a few intended engagements which included the recent Bobbyjo Chase.

A Gold Cup bid will see him look to become the first horse since Easter Hero some 90 years previously to win the big one without a previous start over fences in the season. He may well do it, but his preparation hardly seems ideal for such a demanding contest and at his current price he makes little appeal for all he could conceivably triumph.

Presenting Percy is many peoples' Gold Cup winner, but Pat Kelly's charge has had an unorthodox preparation.


Elegant Escape (25/1, William Hill) finished third behind Presenting Percy in last season’s RSA Chase, and Colin Tizzard’s charge has progressed well this season.

He followed up his third in the RSA Chase by filling the same position behind Terrefort at Aintree in April, after which he underwent a wind operation. He has returned to action this term to score twice, winning a Listed contest at Sandown and the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow either side of finding only Sizing Tennessee too strong in an attritional Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury. He was last seen chasing home Frodon here in the Cotswold Chase where having been outpaced he ran on again up the hill, and he likely would have caught Frodon in another few strides.

While he may not quite have the pace to match the best of these, he’ll be staying on up the hill although probably all too late.

It is unlikely however he’ll get the chance to avenge his defeat behind Frodon (25/1, William Hill) last time out, with that one looking set to go to the Ryanair Chase despite showing further improved form this campaign to win three of his four starts which include the Old Roan Chase at Aintree, and the Cotswold Chase when last seen.

The Nickname gelding had also won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, and he has shown a real affinity with this venue. His a tough and genuine campaigner, and his bold-jumping from the front has delivered time and again for Nicholls’ stalwart.

However, he looked to be coming to the end of his tether in the Cotswold Chase, and he would have an extra furlong to travel this time; he has to rate a dubious stayer over this longer trip and it would be no surprise to see him rerouting to Thursday’s intermediate Ryanair Chase instead of this venue.

Even if he does take his chance, this will represent a much stiffer test than anything he has faced; he would be entitled to run well, but his questionable stamina makes him difficult to fancy taking on better rivals, and he would likely face competition for the lead.

Clan Des Obeaux (4/1, Coral) meanwhile has progressed hand over fist this term having looked a shade limited last season where he was beaten readily in the Aintree Bowl behind Might Bite.

Paul Nicholls’ emerging star finished an eye-catching fourth on his reappearance in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, after which he ran over Thistlecrack in the King George VI Chase at Kempton where he had the likes of Native River and Might Bite both behind.

That win was supplemented by a bloodless success over Terrefort at Ascot last time out in the rearranged Denman Chase. It is little surprise then that he has emerged as a Gold Cup contender; but he has a dismal record at this venue having been beaten in all four starts here, and there is a suspicion given his style of running that he needs a flat track to be seen at his best.

King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux has a poor record at Cheltenham.


In addition to the aforementioned Elegant Escape, Colin Tizzard also saddles defending champion NATIVE RIVER (6/1, William Hill) who hasn’t been in the same form in his two runs this campaign, although it would be folly to rule out a return to form by the Indian River gelding.

Having come out on top in a titanic battle with Might Bite twelve months ago, he wasn’t seen out again until finishing second on ground too quick for him at Haydock behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase; he might have needed that outing in any case, and although he could only finish third in the King George VI Chase behind the strong travelling Clan Des Obeaux and stablemate Thistlecrack he again arguably found the ground against him while the sharp track clearly didn’t play to his strengths.

He showed a tendency to jump to his left at Kempton, and he never appeared to be fully comfortable at the Sunbury venue where he appeared to be niggled at almost from flag-fall to keep him competitive. He’ll be more suited to a more galloping test at Cheltenham as well as going back left-handed; and while the ground again might not prove testing enough, there is rain forecast so he ought not to be too inconvenienced by underfoot conditions.

It is hard to forget how he knuckled down to repel Might Bite twelve months ago, and his battling tenacity could prove invaluable again come the Festival Friday highlight.


Thistlecrack (16/1, Unibet) would be a hugely popular winner of the race, and the 2016 World Hurdle winner hasn’t had the best of fortunes since being narrowly denied behind the ill-fated Many Clouds in the 2017 Cotswold Chase.

He had won all four starts previously, including the King George VI Chase as a novice, but having sustained an injury in the wake of his defeat here behind Many Clouds, he wasn’t seen out again until disappointing on his seasonal return at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle.

Following another injury in the wake of his subsequent fourth in last season’s King George VI Chase, he has run well in both outings this term with a bronze medal finish in the Betfair Chase backed up by going one place better behind Clan Des Obeaux in this season’s King George VI Chase renewal.

He has a good record here, and he has won on a range of ground conditions; the question however remains whether he is still good enough at eleven years old given his injury problems to win a Gold Cup.

Of the Irish contingent joining Presenting Percy in the field, Road To Respect (20/1, William Hill) doesn’t look good enough to win a Gold Cup, and he has already tasted defeat this season behind potential rivals in Kemboy and Bellshill.

That said, the Gamut gelding finished well in the last renewal of the Gold Cup to back fourth, one place behind Anibale Fly who could also make the journey to Cheltenham. Nevertheless, defeats this term in the Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup respectively leave him with a bit to find if the market leaders turn up at their best.

Anibale Fly’s (Ladbrokes) run behind Monalee over an inadequate trip in the Red Mills Chase was a good outing following a promising return over two miles for Tony Martin’s charge, and the Assessor gelding could get competitive again back over a longer trip,

He followed up his third in this race twelve months ago by finishing fourth in the Grand National, and there is a suspicion that Aintree might be his main spring target. He would have a bit to find on last season’s form with the front pair in any case, but he would be entitled to take his chance again.

Willie Mullins could have a strong hand to play in the race with Al Boum Photo (16/1, William Hill) just one of several classy candidates for the Closutton maestro.

He fell in last season’s RSA Chase when beaten, but he subsequently beat Shattered Love to win the Grade One Ryanair Gold Cup Chase at Fairyhouse prior to inexplicably running out with the race at his mercy in the Growise Champion Chase, veering sharply across the course.

The Buck’s Boum gelding made a winning return at Tramore on New Years’ Day, but he hasn’t been seen since. Still unexposed and low-mileage with just seven chase starts to his name he could have more to offer, although this longer trip might find him out and he is yet to win at three miles.

Willie Mullins could launch a powerful raid on the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo, Kemboy and Bellshill all in contention.


Bellshill (14/1, Unibet) meanwhile ended his Leopardstown hoodoo with a narrow victory over Road To Respect, getting up late to win the Irish Gold Cup and register his first win at that venue in five attempts. 

The 2018 Punchestown Gold Cup winner had won all his chase starts on right-handed tracks prior to that Leopardstown win, although he had won left-handed over hurdles. He was beaten ten lengths however on his seasonal debut behind Kemboy in the Savills Chase, and while he was entitled to have needed the run, that rival has improved again since and he might struggle to overturn that form.

Kemboy (10/1, Ladbrokes) has gone from strength to strength this campaign, and earlier jumping issues seem to have been cured; the Voix Du Nord gelding has won his last four starts, having earlier finished fourth in the JLT Novices’ Chase last season, and having bounced back from a Fairyhouse fall in April to win back-to-back at Limerick and Punchestown, he has collected further wins in the Clonmel Oil Chase and the Savills Chase this season.

He had Monalee almost eight lengths adrift in the latter contest when last seen, and he is respected for all this is tougher, and his jumping will be put under the most severe of tests. He possesses a heady and potent mix of speed and stamina, and he looked strong at the end of three miles last time to suggest the further distance of this race won’t inconvenience.

He should give a good account, and assuming his jumping holds up in this white-hot cauldron then it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the mix.

Might Bite (14/1, Bet365) hasn’t looked the same horse that racked up three wins from four starts last term, making Native River fight all the way to the line to win this race twelve months ago; the 2017 RSA Chase winner can’t however be discounted if coming back to something akin to his best.

Nicky Henderson’s Scorpion gelding was a hugely progressive novice, winning four of his six starts which included the RSA Chase; but it might have been five wins had he not fallen when clear at Kempton in the 2016 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

Having followed up his RSA Chase success over Whisper - where he almost threw the race away with an alarming drift to his right - he beat the same rival readily at Aintree to win the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, and he returned last term to beat the likes of Frodon at Sandown and Double Shuffle at Kempton to win the 2017 King George VI Chase.

Only Native River proved too good in this race twelve months ago, but he bounced back to beat Bristol De Mai and Clan Des Obeaux in the Aintree Bowl in April. He has been out of sorts in two runs this term however, looking to need the run in the Betfair Chase, and then folding tamely at Kempton behind Clan Des Obeaux in this season’s King George VI Chase.

Hugely talented, but certainly a quirky customer, he has had a wind operation and the Scorpion gelding has been subject of encouraging reports from Seven Barrows. It would be folly to dismiss him, and he could well bounce back; but on the evidence of his two runs to date this campaign, he will need to do significantly better.

Better ground will help, but with rain forecast he might again find his stamina wanting in softer ground having arguably failed to get up the hill in last year’s renewal.

Might Bite has to bounce back from poor efforts the last twice.


Bristol De Mai (33/1, Bet365) was a mid-race casualty in the King George VI Chase, bringing down Waiting Patiently in the process; Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge had earlier beaten Native River, Thistlecrack, Clan Des Obeaux and Might Bite in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, and the Saddler Maker gelding could go well for all he’s never convinced at this venue previously.

He has been beaten on all three prior starts at Cheltenham, including when only finishing third to Definitely Red in the 2018 Cotswold Chase; he would be half the price he is if this were at Haydock, where he remains unbeaten, but he has found winning difficult away from the Merseyside track in recent seasons.

Definitely Red (50/1, William Hill) meanwhile came off worst in a match with Captain Redbeard when last seen at Kelso; Brian Ellison’s charge had finished sixth in last season’s Gold Cup, and he was expected to readily dispatch that rival having won both the Charlie Hall Chase and Many Clouds Chase prior to his surprise reversal.

That form took a knock when the winner was turned over back at Kelso latest behind Blue Flight - Black Corton runner up - and he has plenty to find here.

VERDICT


Presenting Percy’s unorthodox preparation for a tilt at this race is offputting, and while he could conceivably win he perhaps isn’t one to take too short a price on.

Clan Des Obeaux meanwhile is thriving, although there remains a suspicion that the King George VI Chase fell apart to a degree; Kemboy meanwhile could find his jumping put under pressure and Might Bite has to bounce back from a pair of terrible outings this campaign.

Defending champion NATIVE RIVER (6/1, William Hill) then looks the safest option, and Colin Tizzard’s charge can join the ranks of dual-Gold Cup winners with a successful title defence. Last season’s Gold Cup hero hasn’t managed to win in his two outings this term, but he has had excuses for both defeats, and a return to this venue may well spark a revival.

Softer ground will be a big boost to his chances, and with rain forecast in the days ahead of the Gold Cup the conditions could come right for him. There is no tougher horse in the field, and he can bounce back from his defeats this campaign to successfully defend the crown he won in determined fashion twelve months ago.  

2019 CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP SELECTION - NATIVE RIVER (6/1, William Hill)


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Cheltenham Gold Cup betting tips: Defending champion to successfully retain Blue Riband

Brian Healy gives his big race thoughts on the Cheltenham Gold Cup and assesses the chances of some of the main protagonists in the Friday spectacular.

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